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Wheeler: The Roost
Tillamook: Tillamook Country Pioneer Museum
Cannon Beach: Cannon Beach Books
Seaside: Beach Books
Astoria: Lucy’s Books
Pacific City: The Rowboat Gallery
This story won third place Idaho Magazine‘s 2016 writing contest. I spent many summers exploring the old mining town of Atlanta, Idaho. I hope you enjoy this tale.
Lost Near Atlanta
“It’s great here,” Pam said as she stoked the campfire.
Surrounded by the Boise National Forest, we settled in for the night after a productive research day in Boise and Idaho City. As soon as the Old Idaho Penitentiary out on Old Penitentiary Road opened, Pam and I were there ready to take pictures and notes. I was particularly interested in some of the women incarcerated in the women’s prison and Pam, being a criminal reporter at her day job, was more intrigued with the gallows. We could have stayed there all day, imagining the people who walked behind those bars, and talking to the tour guides, but we were on a tight schedule. We had only three days to see the State Pen and the mining ghost towns of Idaho City, Rocky Bar, and Atlanta.
As usual we had underestimated how much time we would need to see everything. Discussing our trip over the phone, it seemed doable. We would meet in Mountain home. Pam knew the manager of AJs Restaurant and Lounge who said I could leave my car in his parking lot. That way we wouldn’t have to take two cars. Better yet, it would be safe there and we wouldn’t have to worry. Now, there we were, at the end of our first day, pitching a tent in the forest, anxious to see Atlanta and Rocky Bar the next day. We had heard the legend of Peg Leg Annie and we were eager to check it out.
Pam and I are writers and we both have a passion for Idaho history, which isn’t surprising given the fact that we met at an Idaho history conference in Boise five years ago. Pam is writing a murder mystery set in Idaho City and I’m working on a novel. We were hoping this trip would give us all the details we needed to finish our projects.
Since neither one of us are mountain women, I borrowed a popup tent from my brother. “It’s easy,” he said as he showed me how to assemble the tent. And it had looked easy enough when we played with the tent in his driveway. But there, in the forest, I had no idea how to put the thing together. “Maybe we should have stayed in that rustic hotel in Idaho City,” I said to Pam. “A shower would be nice.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But that would defeat the purpose. The character in my novel escapes into the forest. I won’t learn about cooking over a campfire sitting on a bed staring at a TV.”
“That’s true,” I said. “And it’s nice here, being outdoors and away from city traffic.” The campground was deserted. Even the camp host had left for the season.
We were nearing the end of a beautiful October day. The sun-warmed forest was fragrant with pine and sage. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the outdoor smells. It took us a while to set up camp, but once we did, we were glad we’d made the effort.
Sitting around the campfire sipping wine, we discussed all we had learned that day. Pam was particularly intrigued with the story about Lyda Southard, Idaho’s notorious female serial killer, also known as Lady Bluebeard.
“Flypaper,” Pam said. “She boiled flypaper to make her poison.”
I nodded and tried to listen. But I was more interested in the story one of the guards told us about Peg Leg Annie. A rumored prostitute who worked in the mining camps, Annie spent her days living in Atlanta and Rocky Bar. One day in May she and her friend Dutch Em tried to walk from Atlanta to Rocky bar. A freak snowstorm cost Em her life and Annie her legs. My brain was spinning with all the stories I could tell. What was it like to be a prostitute in a mining camp? Better yet, what was it like to be a woman in a mining camp? The possibilities were endless.
As the fire crackled we plotted. “What if I have the murderer hide in the basement of that old church in Idaho City?” Pam said.
“What if Annie had a daughter who hated living in the mining camps and all she wanted to do was escape?”
Pam and I watched the fire and talked until our eyes could no longer focus. “Night,” Pam yawned. “I’m going to bed.”
“Be there soon.” I stared into the fire, wanting to sit there all night and dream. But tomorrow was another busy day, so I needed to get some sleep. Afraid the wind would fan the fire during the night, I snuffed it out and crawled into my sleeping bag. When I turned off the flashlight, Pam was already snoring.
I woke to the sound of wind howling through the forest. Good thing I put out that fire, I thought as I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag. Good thing I have a brother who likes to hunt in subzero temperatures.
“Wake up.” Pam was shaking me. It was still early, barely morning. “You’re not going to believe this.”
I poked my head outside the tent. “Whoa. What happened?”
We were smack in the middle of a snowdrift. The howling wind I heard during the night had filled our campsite with at least ten inches of snow.
“Holy cow,” Pam said. “We’re snowed in.”
Shivering, I pulled on my jeans and sweater and went outside to start a fire. Like that was going to happen. All the wood was covered with snow and what wasn’t buried in a snow bank was too wet to burn. No fire for coffee, no fire to warm our bodies. To make matters worse, everything looked flat like a white sheet. We couldn’t see the road.
“Guess that takes care of Atlanta and Rocky Bar,” Pam said.
“Guess that takes care of a lot of things,” I said. “I think we have bigger problems than research in old mining camps. Her beige Honda was good on roads, but now it was buried in snow. Gloveless, we didn’t have a shovel so we had to use our hands to move the snow away from the car. It was pointless. The more we shoveled, the more snow fell from the cottony sky.
“I’ll call for help.” Pam tired her cell. “No service,” she said looking at the snow still falling.
Exhausted, we stood beside the car in our wet clothes. “What are we going to do?”
“Well,” I said. “It would be stupid to try and walk out.”
“We can’t stay here.”
We broke into a nervous laugh. We’d been looking for an adventure. We sure got one.
“Maybe it’ll stop soon.” My teeth chattered.
“I’m going to sit in the car and run the heater until I get warm,” Pam said. Lucky for us we’d filled the car with gas in Idaho City. Just to be safe. Who knew where the nearest gas station was. I’d heard there wasn’t one in Atlanta. But that didn’t seem to matter now. We’d be lucky to get back to Idaho City, let alone Atlanta. Our research trip had morphed into a trip of survival.
We sat in the car until we could feel our fingers and toes again. By then the snow had stopped, and it was almost noon.
“I think we should walk out,” Pam said.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Do you want to end up like Peg Leg Annie?”
“No.” Pam stared out into the forest. “But I don’t want to die here either.”
We weren’t dressed for winter weather. We had no heavy coats, no snowshoes, no boots or gloves. What we had was a sense of panic as we started out, hoping we were walking in the right direction.
“I can’t even see the road,” I mumbled as I plowed through the snow, breaking a trail. Keen on adventure, I’d gotten myself into some pretty fine pickles, but this was the worst. I looked up at the sky afraid it would snow again. How did this happen? Beam me up Scotty and get me out of here.
We walked for an hour or more. “Look,” Pam said. “Here’s the road that goes back to Idaho City. If we follow it someone will find us.”
What little food we brought was all but gone. We had to keep going. We trudged through the snow until Pam slid off the road and tumbled down the embankment toward the river. “Help,” she cried.
I rushed forward and planted my feet the best I could on the slippery ground. “Give me your hand. I’ll pull you out.”
I yanked and almost fell in myself, but I didn’t let go. When she was safe, we sat on the side of the road our sides heaving. “I think I hurt my leg,” Pam said. “That was fun.”
“Barrels,” I said. “Now what do we do?” The sun was setting. We were wet. It wouldn’t be long before our clothes froze to our bodies.
“We need to keep moving,” I said, afraid if we stopped we’d never move again.
Pam winced. “I don’t think I can walk that far. Our only chance is if you go for help. I can wait here.”
“No you can’t.” I yanked on her arm until she was standing. “We’re in this disaster together.”
We both smelled it before we heard it. “Oh, no,” Pam said. “Is that a bear?”
“They don’t have bears out here, and even if they did, bears hibernate in winter.”
“Well,” Pam said. “It isn’t winter yet. He probably was surprised by the storm just like we were.”
“Run,” I said. “Here he comes!”
We turned to flee but running in the fluffy snow proved impossible. And Pam could only hobble on her bum leg.
“Roll up in a ball and play dead,” Pam instructed.
We both hit the ground and grabbed our knees tight.
Yelp. Yelp. Yelp.
I turned my head to peek. Hallelujah. It wasn’t a bear but a scraggly dog the size of a pony, barking and running toward us.
“Holy cow,” Pam said. “Never saw a dog that big.”
The dog ran to our side, pushing us with his nose. We had no other choice but to follow. “Maybe he lives around here,” Pam said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe somewhere warm.”
He led us to a small mound, a shelter covered with snow. He wouldn’t leave us alone until he had nudged us inside. Once we were settled, he lay down and went to sleep.
“Thanks, buddy.” I snuggled beside him. He was so warm, so comfortable, even if he smelled like a wet dog. Exhausted and spent, we fell asleep next to the giant dog. When we woke it was morning and the dog was gone. The sun was shining. The snow was starting to melt. Looked like our luck was changing.
“What now?” Pam said.
“I guess we keep walking. How’s the leg?”
“Not bad. I think I can make it.” Pam limped.
“Good because I’m not leaving you behind.”
It helped to walk, each step warming our muscles. “Listen,” Pam said. “I hear something.”
“Doesn’t sound like a snowmobile,” I said, which had been my secret hope. That someone eager for winter would break out their sled to play in the snow. This was better. A snowplow clearing the road.
“Hey, you!” We jumped up and down calling, “Here! Here!”
“Wow,” the driver of the yellow machine said. “Where’d you come from?”
We pointed behind us. “We were camped back there when the storm hit. My car is buried in snow,” Pam said.
“Hop in,” he said. “Let’s see if we can get you out.”
“Thanks.” We scrambled into the cab of the plow, glad to be out of the cold.
Back at camp, the driver used a rope to pull Pam’s car out of the drift. When he was finished, we quickly packed up the tent and our chairs, and loaded the car. He waited to make sure we could get out.
“Thanks so much for your help,” I said. “I don’t think we could have stood another night in this weather.”
“Consider yourself lucky,” he said. “I don’t know how you survived this one.”
“There was a big dog,” Pam said. “A Newfoundland, I think. He kept us warm. When we woke, he was gone.” She looked into the forest. “You didn’t see him did you?”
The driver chuckled. “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him around once or twice.”
“Does he live nearby?” I asked.
“No. He roams the forest between here and Rocky Bar. That’s Annie Morrow’s dog.”
I looked at Pam. Was he kidding? If Peg Leg Annie had a dog, he’d be long gone, just like her.
“Seriously,” I said. “Where did he go? We tried to find him, but he didn’t leave any tracks.”
“Seriously,” he smiled. “That’s the dog Annie and Dutch Em had with them when they tried to walk from Atlanta to Rocky Bar that wicked day in May.”
“In that freak snowstorm,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “That dog stayed with Annie and kept her warm.”
“No way,” Pam said.
“That was over a hundred years ago,” I said. “That dog would be dead now.”
The man winked at me. “He may be a ghost, but I’m not going to tell him. Not with the job I have. He’s saved my butt a time or two.” He hopped into his snowplow, waved, and drove off toward Atlanta.
We didn’t go into Atlanta that day, or Rocky Bar either, but we did return home with some great stories to tell. And a promise that we’d make the trip again sometime. But never in October and never in May.
I’m happy to announce that my essay “Ebb and Flow” has been published in Volume 6 of North Coast Squid: A Journal of Local Writing, published by the Hoffman Center for the Arts, Manzanita, Oregon.
You can find a copy of the literary magazine here:
Manzanita: Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, Manzanita News & Espresso
It was a day like no other, one she would remember for the rest of her life. Maxine Foster clicked off the television, her eyes blurry with tears and loaded every single Elvis Presley album she owned on the Zenith record player and pushed the lever.
“Well, it’s one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go.”
Holding her sides, she crumbled to the floor and cried inconsolably. It couldn’t be true. No, he couldn’t be dead.
Find out more about Maxine in Waiting available here.
Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.
I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.
Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.
1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.
Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.
2) I need to do more research.
After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.
3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.
Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.
4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.
Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.
5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.
Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.
6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.
If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.
7) I need to turn off the internal editor.
Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.
8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.
The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
9) Illness gets in the way.
My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.
Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.
Oregon has so many talented writers. Take for instance Jamie Duclos-Yourdon. Jamie, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, August 2016) is his debut novel. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Here are some things you may not know about Jamie.
When I was a kid, my mom said to squeeze her hand if I ever saw anything unusual. She hoped to prevent an embarrassing observation (we lived in New York, after all; everything was unusual), but I spent my time scanning my surroundings—and if I couldn’t spot the obviously unusual thing, I’d identify the smallest discrepancy.
2) What is your writing routine?
I wake up at 4:30 every day and write for an hour. I usually manage 300+ words, which is slightly more than a page. It doesn’t feel like much, but if you keep at it every day—seven days a week, with no exceptions—the material builds up pretty quickly.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
Oh, gosh … I probably go through four or five drafts before I’m ready to share a manuscript with a publisher or an agent, and those drafts have already been vetted by my writing group. If a publisher or agent is interested, then I’ll undertake another two or three drafts. The story is always evolving (and, hopefully, improving).
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career?
Having my first five books rejected. Through Book #6, I was still doing my best Nick Hornsby impression—which isn’t necessarily a knock on Nick Hornsby. It took me a long time to recognize my own voice and even longer to trust it.
5) What part of your job do you love the most?
I love Q&As with an audience. Even if I’ve heard a question before—and more often than not I haven’t—the context is always different, the underlying assumption is different, my mood is different, everything is different. I learn something new every time.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel?
I’m always reading, whether or not I’m working on new material. I mostly stick to fiction, with a few news sources to keep me informed. I’m really picky, in terms of the former (and the latter, I suppose), and I don’t like to reread novels or short stories; additionally, I don’t feel guilty putting down a book after 50 pages. So my reading process is like no, no, no, no, no, YES, no, YES, YES, no, no, no …
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer?
A professor of mine once said, “Learn what you write and when you write.” If you write flash fiction, cool, write flash fiction. If you write 150,000-word novels, then do that instead. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Same goes for whatever time of day suits your creative process: find it and stick to it.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
I took a fiction workshop with Aurelie Sheehan when I was twenty-four. She read one of my short stories and said, “Oh, you write about responsibility!” That observation had a profound effect on my writing.
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
I’ve had a storyteller on my desk since 2001—a ceramic figurine of a Pueblo Indian, mid-story, surrounded by her children. I’ll be devastated when I eventually, inevitably drop and break her.
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I have absolutely no idea. Drunk?
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Samuel Beckett said it best: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I’m currently at work on my tenth novel, a Mesopotamian ghost story about death and grieving and talking crows and ancient Sumer.
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
In January of 2002, an agent at ICM expressed interest in my first novel. I thought, “Yay, this is it! The big time!” and spent the next six months sitting on my ass. I’d love to get that time back.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Read everything. Write constantly. Be on the lookout for a mentor. Don’t assume debt for an MFA. Find community and earn your inclusion. Success isn’t zero-sum. Listen to what your readers have to say. There’s nothing wrong with adverbs. Writers make boring protagonists. Know what your characters want and what prevents them from getting it. Study screenwriting to learn three-act structure. What seems natural and obvious to you is completely foreign to the rest of the world. You are a writer. You are a writer. You are a writer.
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I’ll be the Keynote Speaker at the 2017 South Coast Writers Conference February 17–18.
And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:
Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his permanent perch atop a giant ladder in this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel, Froelich’s Ladder. When he disappears suddenly, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked adventure across the Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs.
If you’re still scrambling to find the perfect Christmas present, consider Jamie’s new book from Forest Avenue Press.
I’ve been quiet and you probably think I fell into the ocean or got blown away by coastal storms. But no, I’m still here, learning all I can about my new home.
The reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been busy. For a tiny dot on the map between Yachats and Lincoln City, Newport’s population is about the same as the town I left in Idaho. If you want a Costco or a Lowe’s you have to drive several miles, just like I did in Idaho. But unlike the town I left behind, there is so much more to do here I barely have time to read, let alone write.
Check out the latest issue of Oregon Coast Today and you will see there is always something going on. Add to that everything happening in The Valley between here and Portland and there is no time to be bored. Ever.
Take for instance last weekend. Since I don’t like to drive Portland traffic my son quietly obliged, taking me to Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock. I was so revitalized I’m still vibrating. My favorite author, Alice Hoffman, was in town and spoke about her new book Faithful. She even signed my copy and thanked me for stopping by. So many other talented writers attended, not to mention many Oregon presses including Ooligan Press, Tin House, and my favorite, Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press. If that wasn’t great enough, admission to the event included admittance to the Portland Art Museum and the Andy Warhol exhibit. Now my son was vibrating, snapping pictures and studying one-of-a-kind art. Yes, it was raining. But in spite of the rain, it was a positive, energizing day.
That evening my family took in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical put on by my grandson Dante’s high school class. The students were top notch, high energy, and amazing. The day ended with dinner at The Ram and a glass of wine. Perfect.
Many people told me I was crazy to move to Oregon. Several said I’d get depressed and miss the sun. And even though I miss my friends in Idaho, and sometimes I do miss the sun, mostly I love it here. Even when it’s raining.
We’ve always been explorers, enjoying the back roads of Idaho and now Oregon. We’re not cityites who like to stare at window displays or order lattes. We like to travel back roads, sip home-brewed coffee, and enjoy the scenery.
Knowing we liked quiet places for our dogs to run, a neighbor told us to check out the road from Beaver Creek to Toledo. “It’s mostly gravel,” he said, “and it’s easy to get lost. There isn’t much traffic. Nice drive, though.”
Enjoying a challenge, we filled our coffee mugs, gathered our dogs, headed south on 101, and turned east toward Beaver Creek. We turned left where the road teed and stopped at the Beaver Creek Welcome Center, hoping they’d have a map of the area.
No maps, just a volunteer. “Follow that road,” he said. “Stay left.” He pondered a moment. “Turns to gravel. Think it’s twenty or thirty miles. Been a while since I drove it. If you get lost, you can always turn around and come back.”
We looked at each other. Turning back was rarely an option. Not when we wanted to see something new.
After considerable conversation, we waved a cheerful goodbye and followed the road. Within minutes we stopped at a small park with a picnic table and a large area for the dogs to run. While the dogs sniffed bushes, we picked blackberries and chomped on half-ripe apples from a nearby tree.
“Yuk.” I spit out the bitter fruit.
“Just right,” my husband said happily.
We rounded up the dogs, got back in the truck, and continued on.
No cars tried to pass us. No trucks met us head-on. The only vehicle on the road, we traveled slowly enjoying the drive, heavy with vegetation on both sides of the road.
“Reminds me of the road to Fall Creek,” I said, commenting on the dense undergrowth. But instead of seeing obelisks of mullein and ponderosa pine, the shoulders of these roads were thick with evening primrose, foxglove, and purple loosestrife. I gawked out the window trying to identify the plants: Queen Anne’s Lace, mountain ash, ocean spray, and wild rose. Many more varieties than I would see traveling the gravel road from Fall Creek to Featherville, which held mostly fern and pine.
“Look,” my husband said as two velveted buck dashed in front of us. He hit the brakes and we watched them dart into the trees. We knew they were watching us, waiting for us to leave. But try as we might, we couldn’t spy an eye or an antler.
Moving on, it wasn’t long before we hit gravel. The vegetation grew thicker, canopying the narrow road. Blackberry vines reached toward the truck, each branch heavy with green berries. We were driving into a jungle, secluded and uninhabited, with no signs to guide us.
“Wonder if we should turn around?” my husband said, recalling the words of the Beaver Creek volunteer. Unwilling to give up, we moved forward, deeper into the forest.
“Must be on the right road,” my husband said when we finally spotted a mile marker that looked lost on the gravel road.
“How many miles did he say?” I asked.
“Twenty or thirty.”
We’d been driving almost an hour, but I couldn’t judge mileage. We were moving slow, sometimes five miles an hour, up, then down, wind around a corner. Wind around another corner so dark with shade we couldn’t see the sun.
Climbing again, we broke out onto a sunny hilltop. The panorama of the valley was jaw-dropping, worth the worry of getting lost.
“I know where we are now,” my husband said. “Toledo is right over there.”
Leaving the forest behind, we headed down. Minutes later we were on familiar asphalt again.
“Not even twenty miles,” my husband said.
“Not bad at all,” I said. “Perfect way to spend an afternoon.”
And the very best part of the drive was that we didn’t once have to turn around.
Plants have always been my passion. You’re more likely to find me outside playing in the dirt instead of indoors sitting in front of the TV or holding a book. For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in plants. What is it? Does it have medicinal purposes? Can you eat it? Moving to the Oregon Coast, then, has been this gardener’s dream. Here, if you want something to grow, just toss it on the ground, forget about it and a week later it will be an established plant. In southern Idaho if you tossed a plant on the ground, it was destined to die.
As an Idaho Master Gardener I know a lot about plants. But here in Oregon I feel like I’ve dropped down the rabbit hole. My head bobs at every step as I try to identify plants I’ve never seen before. Like the large bush that attracts birds and borders my yard on the north. The plant is prolific; I see it everywhere. But it took a trip to the county extension office to learn that the plant is a wax myrtle. I didn’t know that the pretty yellow plant along the side of the road is scotch broom and that it’s invasive. I was familiar with perennial geraniums but didn’t know that Herb Robert was not the same as cranesbill geranium even though they look alike. Is it an azalea or a rhododendron? What makes them different?
My yard is a wonderland of new discoveries. I knew I had a lot of blackberries bordering my lawn, but I didn’t know that I also had salmonberry, thimbleberry and evergreen huckleberries, not to mention the salal that grows like trees.
A walk through my neighborhood is truly a walk in the forest. Trilliums. Yellow skunk cabbage. English daisies and woodland strawberries that cover the ground instead of grass. Western buttercups and lewisia. Each forward step offers a mystery to be solved.
Moving to Oregon has been a grand adventure and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all about the plants that grow in my yard and neighborhood. With the ocean just down the road, I’m eager to start learning the names of the interesting treasures I find on the beach.
Sawtooth City in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy Community Library Regional History Department
Since April is national poetry month, Emily McIntyre wants to share a poem with you. Emily grew up in the gritty mining camps of Saw Tooth City and Rocky Bar, Idaho Territory, in the 1870s. She lived in a log cabin and carried water from nearby Beaver Creek. She was a great companion to Lizzie and George Harmon until the nefarious Kerry Chapman Troupe came to entertain the miners in the spring of 1882.
Back East there is a better life,
No digging in the dirt,
Or staring in a miner’s pan
Until your eyelids hurt.
A place where parasols are made
Of Paris silk so fine,
A place where steamboats paddle by,
A place that I’d call mine.
Back East is where I wish to go—
I’d like to run away
From all these mountains, trees, and chores.
Back East is where I’d stay.
Somewhere there is another sky
That’s just this shade of blue,
Somewhere back East, away from here,
Where all your dreams come true.
Emily Ann McIntyre
Saw Tooth City
April 29, 1882
You can read all about Emily’s journey in Goldie’s Daughter.
I just returned from the doctor. There is good news and there is bad. The good news is that the new doctor was personable, asked lots of questions, talked to me instead of a computer, and gave me a good sense of well being. The bad news is that my A1C reading was 9.1.
I have an autoimmune disorder that acts like Lupus without the rash. Most days I feel like crap. On the outside I look great and full on energy, but on the inside I fight to function. I’ve had this disease for many years and I don’t run to the doctor every time I feel sick. But a few years ago I was scheduled to fly to Portland to see my grandchildren and I felt awful. Too sick to get on a plane. So I called my doctor and made an appointment. Eight hours later I had a diagnosis. Diabetes Type II. Yeah, happy birthday to me.
That was four years ago and it’s been a daily battle. The first two years I was able to keep my A1C numbers in the 6.1 range with diet, exercise, and oral medications. Then the numbers started climbing and no matter what I did I couldn’t bring them down to a healthy level. So I wasn’t surprised when my new doctor told me my A1C was high. What surprised me was that it had jumped two whole points in six months in spite of a low carb diet and exercise.
People with diabetes have bodies that don’t use insulin properly. Over time their pancreases can’t make enough insulin to keep their blood glucose at normal levels. Their pancreases may even stop working.
According to a recent report, there are about 27 million people in the U.S. with Type II diabetes. Another 86 million have prediabetes, which means their blood glucose is not normal, but not high enough to be diabetes yet.
So why am I telling you this? To bore you? To make you sad? To scare you?
To warn you. To encourage you to pay more attention to your health so you won’t end up like me, pricking your finger twice a day, counting carbs, and wishing you didn’t have to watch every thing you put in your mouth.
I was naïve. I knew lots of people with diabetes. I knew so many I began to believe diabetes was innocuous. People didn’t die from diabetes. Well, yes, they DO die from organ failure and heart disease, all a result of diabetes. Television commercials lead you to believe living with diabetes is no big deal. You can go to picnics. You can eat hot dogs and corn on the cob. You can smile and dance and have fun.
The reality is living with diabetes is HUGE. It’s hard work. Even with diet and exercise most days it feels like I’m are playing Russian roulette. I’m afraid to test my blood sugar because I don’t want to see the high numbers. It scares me and makes me depressed.
Be smarter than me. Any type of diabetes is a big thing. If your doctor says you are prediabetic, pay attention. Stop eating flour, sugar, and high carb foods immediately. Begin an exercise program and stick to it. Keep your blood glucose numbers between 80 and 100. That way you can truly be happy and healthy and smile and dance and have fun.
There is always something artsy or literary happening on the Oregon Coast. That’s one of the reasons I picked Newport, Oregon, to retire. This weekend the Nye Beach Writers is hosting Brittney Corrigan, poet and writer from Portland, Oregon. (Jan. 16, 2016 at 2.p.m. at the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. General admission is $8; students are admitted free. Open mic to follow).
Brittney is the author of the poetry collection Navigation (The Habit of Rainy Nights Press, 2012) and the chapbook 40 Weeks (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and she is the poetry editor for the online journal Hyperlexia: poetry and prose about the autism spectrum (http://hyperlexiajournal.com/). Brittney lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is both an alumna and employee of Reed College. You can find all this information in her bio, but here is something you may not know.
1) Why did you become a writer? How did you get started?
A writer was not something I became – it’s something I always was. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I started with short stories and poetry, and over the years my focus turned to poetry almost entirely. But it was my high school English teacher who most encouraged me and made me believe that it was who I really was at my core.
2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I don’t have a specific routine. I have two children and a full time job, so I write in bits and pieces whenever I can make the time. I carry poems around in my head for a long time before they make it to the page. Being part of a writing group that meets regularly also helps to keep me motivated and generating new work.
3) How many drafts before you feel a poem is finished?
Since my poems gestate in my head for quite some time, they usually only go through 1-2 drafts.
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best thing was seeing the publication of my first book and first chapbook both in the same year. I wouldn’t say that I have a worst thing, but the most challenging part is finding large stretches of time to focus on writing, especially now that I’m working on a new manuscript.
5) What part of writing do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
I love the excitement that comes when a new poem is pouring out of me onto the page after turning it over and over in my mind for so long. If I have to pick a dislike, it would be how difficult it is for new poets to get books published and find an audience.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on poetry? Favorite authors?
I read plenty of poetry (which is very inspirational for my own work), but I also love fiction, particularly novels written in the magical realism style. My favorite poets are Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye, Natalie Diaz, and Deborah Digges. My favorite novelists are Tom Spanbauer, Barbara Kingsolver, Erin Morgenstern, and Ann Patchett.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
The best advice I’ve had over the years is to just keep at it when it comes to both writing and publishing. The world of a poet is stacked high with rejection letters, but it’s important to keep sending the work out there into the world. I don’t have any specific memories of bad advice.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
I would say the poet Maxine Scates, who I have worked with off and on since college in classes, workshops, and on my senior thesis at Reed College. She is a gifted poet and teacher, and her guidance has been invaluable to my own writing process.
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
Not specifically, but I’m riddled with OCD tendencies, so superstition runs strong in my veins!
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Well, my day job is an event planner at Reed College, where I work with faculty members on the public lecture series on campus. And I absolutely love it.
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
From Henry James, “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!”
12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I’m working on a new manuscript titled Daughters, a series of persona poems that reimagine characters from mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and pop culture from the perspective of their daughters—characters such as Bigfoot, the Mad Hatter, Medusa, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Taking on such topics as aging, rebellion, loss, abuse, and judgment, the voices of Daughters aim to turn the reader’s conceptions of the characters on their ends and throw light upon what it means for a girl to come out from under her parents as a woman of her own making.
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
I would travel before having children. I would love to see Ireland in particular.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Find a writing group or partner, develop your writing discipline, and read, read, read!
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I have a soft spot for rescuing feral cats.
And, what would you like us to know about your latest release?
Both of my books were released in 2012. Info on those is at http://brittneycorrigan.com/. A sample poem from Daughters can be found at http://brittneycorrigan.com/poetry/daughter-poems/. Published poems available online and forthcoming can be found at http://brittneycorrigan.com/about/publications/.
For more information about Brittney visit http://brittneycorrigan.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/Brittney-Corrigan-Writer-293186861938/?fref=ts
December 31, 2015
While everyone is celebrating New Year’s Eve I’m taking a moment to reflect on the last twelve months. In one short year so much has happened. Weddings. Graduations. Illnesses. Deaths. Loss. Relocation. I might be tempted to write a sappy blog about the highs and lows of a hellish year, but all I feel is gratitude.
Tonight as I tip my champagne glass at the television, I say to my husband, “Just once I’d like to do that.”
He stares blankly at the TV. “What?”
“Watch the ball drop at Times Square.”
He turns toward me. “Really.”
No, I guess not. That’s a lot of people. Over a million, the commentator claims. People yelling and pushing and probably exhausted from standing in line for thirteen hours to save a spot. But there really was a time when I would have stayed up all night to join that crowd and welcome in the New Year, to dance and sing with Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York.”
But not anymore. If I were to make that trip today I would be jet-lagged and ill. The change in altitude would rev up my Meniere’s disease sending my head spinning. Nonetheless, it would have been an exciting way to welcome in 2016.
This time last year I was sitting with family in a vacation rental near Moolack Beach. We call it our Griswold Family Christmas. Most of us were sick. To make matters worse a valve in the holding tank was broken. Baby Ellie was sick. So were her parents. There was an ocean full of water outside but inside there was not a drop to drink. Twice we drove into Newport for water. We bought all the bottled water Thriftway carried, then hit up Safeway and Fred Meyer’s. In more ways than one it was the Christmas from hell. We tried to laugh, but we were miserable and ready to go home. By 10 p.m. we were all in bed, our plans to celebrate the New Year abandoned.
Fast forward a year and once again I have an opportunity to welcome in the New Year on the Oregon Coast. But this time I’m eating fresh crab and sipping champagne. There is no vacation rental; there is no broken valve. There is plenty of fresh water. This year our family Christmas was awesome instead of a disaster. Celebrating with our son and family in Happy Valley we baked cookies, beaded snowflakes, and drove into Portland to see the lights at Peacock Lane as well as the red and green lights on the bridge. We celebrated the Winter Solstice at Milwaukie’s Riverfront Park, sang carols, drank hot chocolate around a huge bonfire, and watched the fire reflect in the water. Everything was magical; it truly felt like Christmas.
That Griswold Christmas seems a long time ago. So much has changed. Now when I open my front door I hear the ocean instead of traffic. While friends in Idaho bundle up against single digit temperatures and inches of snow, the ground in my front yard has yet to freeze.
“Happy New Year.” I clink my husband’s glass as he heads off to bed. It’s 9 p.m. We’re not going to make it to midnight.
Welcome to Newport I hum as Kathy Griffin and Cooper Anderson razz each other at Times Square. I laugh at one of their jokes. The camera zooms in on the ball. The crowd behind them cheers.
I tip my glass toward the TV and finish my champagne. I am warm. I am happy. I am safe.
I turn off the television and put Emily, Riley, and Boo to bed. “Happy New Year,” I pat them on their heads as I retire. They waggle their tails. I turn out the lights.
I am filled with gratitude.
I am filled with awe.
I am humbled.
When I moved from Idaho to Oregon my biggest fear was how well I would adapt to the wet climate. I’m a sunshine girl. I’ve spent most of my life living on a high desert plain. I know about wind. I know about dry air. But I knew nothing about wet and gray. That nagging voice in my head kept harping, You’re not going to like it. You’re not going to like it.
But this week as I watch the temperatures in Jerome, Idaho, drop to below zero, I’m not so sure. Here in South Beach it’s a misty 52°. Last night temperatures dipped to 45, not 18. This week I didn’t have to wake to -1°. And yesterday I was able to get outdoors and take a walk between raindrops without snow boots and gloves. The air was fresh; the roads were wet, but not icy. And this is December.
Idaho Decembers can be treacherous, especially the first snowfall and freeze. Cars run off the freeway, pileups happen, summoning a parade of tow trucks until people slow down. December in Oregon is also dangerous. There may not be snow on the road, but there is plenty of freezing rain. You can drive along at normal speed and then bam! you round a corner and hit ice. I’ve had my share of driving winter roads. I know how to maneuver. But between you and me, I prefer snow-covered to ice. Ice is impossible, even with chains.
So though some thing’s change, some things stay the same. It’s winter, and time to take it easy. Maybe it’s nature’s way of telling us to slow down and enjoy the season.
Spring in southern Idaho can be treacherous, or it can be beautiful. Usually the wind blows so hard you think you are in Kansas, but today it is beautiful, so beautiful I wandered down to Shoshone Falls.
Sometimes called the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls is 212 feet high—45 feet higher than Niagara Falls—and flows over a rim 1,000 feet wide. Because water is diverted for irrigation and hydroelectricity, water levels diminish in the summer and fall making spring the best time to view the falls. Here is what it looked like today. As soon as the snow melts in the mountains, the water pouring over the falls will double.
This high desert isn’t always dry and boring. Today it is splendid and boasting of spring.
January is a month for new beginnings. While everyone is setting goals and making resolutions, I have a few of my own I’d like to share. Years of writers’ conferences, workshops, and book signings have taught me what to do as well as what not to do as I try to present myself as a professional writer.
- Professional writers listen and observe. At workshops, they don’t talk unless they are the keynote speaker. They respect the presenter even if they think they know more than the speaker. They don’t hog the time or offer their opinions unless they are specifically asked.
- Dress appropriately. Professional writers don’t show up in pajamas even if they write most of their books in pjs. They pay special attention to their appearance and put their best self forward. They brush their teeth, comb their hair and wear clean conservative clothes at presentations and book signings.
- Be courteous. At book fairs, professional writers don’t shout out, “Hey you, buy my book.” Nor do they interrupt other authors talking about their own books by saying, “Hey, I’m a writer too.” Or “Hey, I take credit cards.” They wait their turn and are considerate.
- Don’t gossip or complain. Professional writers are mindful of what they say in public. They don’t gossip or burn bridges. They know that the writer they pan today may be the best-selling author they’d like a back cover blurb from tomorrow. They know that the writer they berate may be the person they may have to chair a committee with some day.
- Be on time. Professional writers realize that time is a precious commodity. They don’t make others wait. They call when they know they are going to be late and stick to schedules, no matter what.
- Continue to learn. Professional writers know that writing is an ever-changing industry and that what worked five years ago isn’t going to work today. They read, study, and attend meetings and conferences to stay current in their industry.
- Don’t brag. Professional writers check their egos at the door. They realize that everyone has an opinion or something to boast about. They don’t pontificate or shove their personal opinions on others.
- Be dependable. Professional writers keep their promises. If they sign on to do something, they do it. They are honest and reliable. They finish what they start.
- Exercise self-control. Professional writers control their emotions. They realize that writing is a subjective career. They know how to handle rejection. They don’t shout or scream in public if their feelings are hurt, or if they have a problem with another writer. They settle disputes privately with discretion.
- Be present and give your all. Professional writers believe in themselves and write even when the writing is going badly. They believe in the process and they always do their best, knowing that their audience deserves only the best.
And lastly, professional writers know the difference between work and play, and count themselves blessed that they get to do something they love every day. As you begin the New Year, put your best foot forward. Be professional and enjoy the journey.
Home for in Time for Christmas
Cassie stood at the kitchen window, her hands wrapped around a coffee cup for warmth. Outside, snow swirled in a series of mini tornadoes, not that she’d ever seen a tornado, or snow, either, for that matter. A snow tornado, that’s how she’d describe it to her mother back home in Seattle. Between the steam from the coffee fogging her glasses and the swirling snow outside it was impossible to see the corral let alone her husband Jim.
“I need to put Ole Henry in the barn,” he had said as the snow started to fall. That was thirty minutes ago. She was sure the horse was no longer outdoors, but that gave Cassie little comfort as she watched the sky thicken with snow. She shivered while upstairs the twins squealed as they wiggled into their new snowsuits.
“Hurry up,” Tracey said. “We need to build a snowman before the snow goes away.”
Cassie smiled. As if this snow was going anywhere, not if you believed the meteorologist on Channel 7. If she’d been more of an outdoors’s girl she’d button her coat and join her children. But she was a city girl, more in love with Seattle than the Idaho prairie, so she let them enjoy the excitement of their very first snowfall without expressing her discontentment.
She turned as the door squeaked opened flooding the kitchen with cold blustery wind. Jim was covered in snow, his face redder than the barn. He warmed his hands over the wood stove and called upstairs. “Girls? What are you waiting for, Christmas?”
They giggled their way toward the kitchen. Tracey had her stocking hat on inside out and Stacey had her scarf wrapped so tight around her neck all Cassie could see were her eyes.
“Yes,” they cried in unison. “We can’t wait for Christmas in Idaho.” Tracey pointed to the calendar. “Only twenty more days.”
It was hard to believe Christmas was less than three weeks away. In the four short months they had been on the Camas Prairie, Cassie’s sickly-looking six-year olds had blossomed into sturdy pioneer stock. Freckles bridged their noses, and their once pale faces were now the golden color of honey. If only their grandmother could see them, Cassie thought. She wouldn’t believe their transformation.
“Cass?” Jim straightened Tracey’s hat and tugged the twins’ zippers tight. “Aren’t you going to join us?”
Cassie shook her head. “No thanks. I can watch from the window.”
Tracey pulled at her mother’s hand. “Awe, come on, Mom. It’ll be fun.”
Cassie gave her daughter a hug. “I’ll come out later and take pictures to send to Nana.”
Closing the door behind them, Cassie brushed at the tears threatening to fall. The thing she wanted most wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t be spending Christmas with her mother in Seattle. She wouldn’t see the city decked out in holiday fare from the top of the Space Needle, or stop for hot cocoa at the Fairmount Olympic after riding the Holiday Carousel at Westlake Park. She would miss the hubbub at Pike Place Market and the horse-drawn carriage rides. Just last week she had begged, even pleaded. “Please, Jim. Can’t we go home for Christmas?”
“This is our home,” he’d said without looking up from his newspaper. “I want to have Christmas here. So do the twins.”
Cassie bristled. This stupid farm was driving a wedge between them. What did they think they were doing anyway, a Seattle attorney and accountant on a run-down farm in the middle of nowhere? Her poor attempt at a garden had proved a disaster. Mending fences filled her hands with calluses and broken fingernails. And the grasshoppers and rabbits ate better than she and her children.
“It will bring us closer as a family,” Jim had promised as he transported them from Washington to Idaho. Fairfield, Cassie thought the moment she saw the farm. Nothing was fair about Idaho or the abandoned ranch either where cell phone reception was spotty at best. Four months, but it felt like years.
She finished her coffee, then pulled her camera from the top of the closet, buttoned up her coat and joined her family outside.
“Watch out, Mom!” Tracey said, as a snowball whizzed over Cassie’s head. Before Cassie could duck, another hit her square in the face. Cold and icy, the snowball fight was anything but fun.
She brushed the snow from her eyes and interrupted their game by pulling a carrot from her pocket. “Here. Frosty needs a nose.”
“Thanks!” Stacey’s cheeks were red; her eyes sparkled like fairy dust. The only thing that would make them shine brighter was Tinker Bell appearing with her magic wand.
Positioning her twins beside the finished snowman, Cassie said, “Say, Cheese.”
“Cheese.” Her twins smiled as Cassie clicked the camera.
“Wait. One more. So I can put it in a frame for Nana so she’ll have something to admire this Christmas.”
Jim looked pointedly at her. Without a word he walked toward the barn.
Go, she thought. Go talk to your stupid horse.
That night at dinner she tried again. “Please. One week. Surely you can spare one lousy week.”
Jim put his fork down and kept his voice even. “I promised Roger I’d help reroof his barn.”
Cassie scoffed. “Who roofs a barn in the middle of winter?”
“Farmers since they’re too busy any other time of the year.” She looked at her plate, and they finished the meal in silence.
While Cassie cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes, she made a decision. She was going home for Christmas, even if she had to go alone.
The next morning, after the twins were safely in school, Cassie stopped at the library. A large sagebrush sprayed white and decorated as a Christmas tree stood in the middle of the lobby making everything smell pungent instead of like pine.
“Isn’t it lovely,” the librarian said when she saw Cassie looking at the tree. “Just last week the first grade elementary kids helped decorate. Look. Aren’t these just the sweetest?”
All the decorations were homemade, including the paper garland and tissue paper snowflakes. Ornaments in the shapes of stars and candy canes cut from paper plates hung from the twisted branches. Pretending to admire the artwork, Cassie turned a glittery pink star over, startled to see her child’s name written in bold red letters: Tracey Ann Mink – 1st grade.
She searched until she found the other, a candy cane colored red and green: Stacey Marie Mink – 1st grade. Beside her name, Stacey had added a smiley face wearing a Santa’s hat. They hadn’t mentioned decorating a sagebrush, had they? No, she would have remembered. Cassie chewed the inside of her cheek while she waited for her computer to connect to the Internet. Why was she the only one who couldn’t seem to bond with this stark Idaho landscape?
As soon as she was on the Internet, Cassie purchased three plane tickets to Seattle. After checking email and her Facebook page, she turned off her computer and drove the ten snowy miles home, all the while humming, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The storm had passed, leaving everything glittering white. The contrast between the blue sky and the white trees was striking she had to admit, prettier than the dreary gray skies she knew her mother was experiencing in Seattle.
That night as they settled around the kitchen table slurping tomato soup and devouring grilled cheese sandwiches, Cassie broke her news. “Jim,” she said, “I’m going home for Christmas, and I’m taking the twins with me.”
Everyone stopped eating. The only sound in the kitchen was the refrigerator running.
“I thought we were staying here for Christmas,” Tracey said. “That’s where I told Santa to bring my presents.”
“He can still bring your presents here. That way you can celebrate Christmas twice,” Cassie negotiated.
“It won’t be the same,” Tracey pouted.
Stacey folded her arms across her chest. “I’m not going. I promised Miss Miller I’d help hang the star at our Christmas pageant.”
“I’m sure someone else can help her out,” Cassie coaxed.
“Maybe they can,” Stacey said. “But I said I was gong to do it. And I am.”
Cassie looked at her husband. “Jim, help me out here.”
He pushed away from the table and grabbed his coat. “You’re own your own,” he said. “I need to check the livestock.”
Stacey finished her sandwich and said, “ I’m staying here for Christmas.”
“Me too,” Tracey said.
“But what about Nana?” Cassie said. “She will miss you.”
“No, she won’t,” Tracey said. “She already said it would be all right. Don’t you remember, when we talked to her on the computer?”
“Fine.” Cassie was disheartened but she wasn’t defeated. The following Monday she drove into Fairfield. Again using the library Internet, she cancelled the twins’ tickets and changed her ticket from a week to a long weekend. She’d spend Christmas Eve with her mother at Westlake Park and fly back Christmas day in time to wish her children Merry Christmas.
With Christmas coming the twins were so excited their happiness was contagious. All week long they practiced the songs they would sing in the Christmas assembly at school. What Cassie had convinced herself would be easy, was proving hard to do. She didn’t want to be away from her children at Christmas, but she didn’t want her mother to be alone, either. As she backed out of the driveway and pointed the car toward Boise, she tried to mimic the twins’ holiday spirit. “Oh Christmas tree,” she sang as she maneuvered the icy roads. “I’ll be home for Christmas.” In spite of the happy songs, her heart was heavy. But the surprised look on her mother’s face would make the sacrifice worthwhile. She’d be back soon. She wouldn’t miss their Idaho Christmas.
Her parting with Jim had been icy at best. He didn’t kiss her goodbye; he didn’t wish her a Merry Christmas. “Watch the roads,” he’d said before walking off to the barn. She knew in her heart if something didn’t change soon her marriage was doomed. But she would worry about that next week after the holidays. Next year was soon enough to decide how to resolve their differences.
Arriving early for her flight, Cassie stopped at Starbucks in the Boise Airport and enjoyed a real cup of coffee. Along with their festive display Starbucks was selling holiday coffee cups: Snowmen, candy canes and reindeer. She selected two cups, each painted green and red to look like elves’ shoes. She envisioned filling the cups with hot chocolate on Christmas Eve and settling down to a movie on TV, maybe “It’s a Wonderful Life” with her mother. The thought made her smile. Why, then, was she so close to crying?
Christmas was everywhere, in the corridors, on the escalators, and especially in families reuniting again. Cassie watched as family members greeted holiday travelers with hugs and kisses. She almost cried when a young woman holding a baby embraced her husband returning from active duty. She kissed her husband repeatedly, “This is the only thing I want for Christmas. I’m so glad you made it home. Just like you promised.” The soldier smothered the baby with kisses and Cassie had to look away to stop her tears.
Finally they called her flight. As she stood in line to board the plane the anticipation in the air was catching. Everyone was headed home for Christmas.
Cassie squared her shoulders. My mother needs me.
She dug through her purse and found her ticket. My husband needs me.
Ticket in hand for scanning, Cassie knew instantly no matter how much she hated Idaho, no matter how much she missed her mother, she loved her husband and children more.
“Miss?” The attendant said. “Your ticket?”
Cassie fumbled with her purse. “Oh, I think I lost it.” She picked up her carryon and stepped out of line.
As Cassie passed Starbucks she stopped and picked up two more coffee mugs. She’d fill them with hot chocolate Christmas Eve after they decorated the tree. It could even be a scrawny sagebrush sprayed white, it wouldn’t matter as long as they were all together. She’d be home to hear Tracey sing and to see Stacey hang the star. She’d be home in time to kiss her husband good night and tell him how much she loved him.
Cassie pulled away from the airport and onto the interstate highway. She wouldn’t wait to see their faces. “Oh Christmas tree,” she sang. Only two more hours. She’d be home in time for Christmas.